Competition helps young filmmakers get careers off to a good start

Sarah Hager is living proof the Victoria Film Festival is fulfilling its mandate to motivate youth to become filmmakers.

Hager, 26, was a Grade 11 Vic High student when she participated in FilmCAN, which debuted 12 years ago as a film showcase and program that aimed to educate young people about the fundamentals of film production.

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It morphed into an annual competition that gave aspiring filmmakers, mentored by professionals, the chance to create short films.

Winners received education and filmmaking equipment donated by sponsors, and had their films screened at the festival.

Submissions for FilmCAN 2014, open to middle-school students and high schoolers who compete in junior and senior categories, are being accepted through Dec. 14. Top prizes include a 27-inch iMac computer with a one-year subscription to Adobe Premiere and Creative Suite provided by Aqua Irrigation, and a scholarship to Gulf Islands Film and Television School.

Entries will be screened online, with the winners showcased during the Victoria Film Festival in February.

“It was an eye-opener,” recalled Hager, an emerging Métis filmmaker who went on to work as an intern with the National Film Board, graduated from Capilano University’s motion-picture production program and won more honours.

Hager’s latest include becoming one of four finalists who will receive mentoring in film development and short-form storytelling at the Whistler Film Festival next month as part of an aboriginal filmmakers fellowship.

Mentors are actor-director Lorne Cardinal (Corner Gas), producer Cynde Harmon, actor Marie Clements and writer and singer Andrea Menard.

Hager, who began her film career as an actor, attracted their attention with Disorder, a new sci-fi short she will direct from a screenplay she co-wrote with her boyfriend Matt Klassen. The film’s art director, Pandora Young, also grew up in Victoria.

“FilmCAN’s a great program to get started with,” Hager recalled. “The mentors were a big thing that really helped me.”

Her FilmCAN entry was Killing Speed, a short film that juxtaposed footage of a boy playing with toy cars with images years later of him as a teenager following a fatal car crash.

“It was horrifying, actually,” she recalled. “Not very cheerful.”

Hager also gained invaluable experience watching her mother Barbara Hager, an award-winning Métis/Cree filmmaker and head of Aarrow Productions. She’s best known for her documentary Sounds Like Motown; The New Canoe, her long-running arts and culture series for the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, and her APTN environmental series Down2Earth.

Her mother also produced the documentary From Bella Coola to Berlin, and is currently shooting Jane Doe: The Tale of an Urban Deer, her wildlife documentary on the apparently never-ending problem of urban deer.

“When my mother first started doing documentaries I was always around,” Hager recalled. “Since I was 13, I helped her, even just getting coffee.”

It stood her in good stead for what lay ahead — from hours on end editing video footage to raising production funds.

“Even though I went into more dramatic films, it was beneficial,” she said. “I learned so much and I have such an appreciation for producers now, that it’s not just this mysterious force that somehow gets a movie made.”

Hager, who has also written and directed her own short screenplays and theatre pieces, is being reminded of that as she continues to develop Disorder, her first big-budget short, aided by a $5,000 NFB grant.

“It’s a story set in a dystopian society about how all forms of art and creative expression are banned,” said Hager. She’s also collaborating on a project based on Canadian writer Richard van Camp’s children’s book What’s the Most Beautiful Thing You Know about Horses?

Meanwhile, Hager is launching Plantasia Creative, a company that also focuses on theatre and other creative avenues and specializes in production of promotional works.

“It’s hard to just get [out] of school and say, ‘Hey, I’m a director,’ ” said Hager, who admits she hopes she won’t have to keep working at coffee shops while realizing her dreams. “Directing and writing are two things I want to do most.”

• To enter FilmCAN, go to After reading rules, regulations and tutorials on making your film, upload it there by Dec. 14. Tell everyone to check out your film and ask them to “Like” it online.

If you have questions, email

On Dec. 31, the five films liked most in each category go to the jury. Winners will be announced at a pre-festival bash Jan. 7.

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